Snakes and Ladders

Half year European car sales data paints a somewhat uneven picture.

(c) Car Magazine

Originating in India, the popular board game of snakes and ladders was for decades a timeless children’s favourite – in the analogue era at least. Based on traditional morality tales and to some extent the concept of karma, the nature of the game was to move from the bottom of the board to the top via rolls of the dice, avoiding potential trapdoors along the way.

With data for the half-year to June now available, it could be stated that the current European car sales situation is of a similar haphazard nature. Last week, we looked at how the EV sector was performing, so today we cast our gaze upon the walking wounded and the not much longer for this world, courtesy of Automotive News, market trackers, JATO Dynamics and figures from

The first six months of 2019 has witnessed the continued bifurcation of the European auto market, with adoption of crossover and SUV formats reaching a new high of 36.1%, up from 33.2% over the same period last year. Needless to say, this comes at the expense of other sectors, but even within the SUV/CUV segment, a hollowing out of sorts also appears to be under way.

The obvious victims of the ongoing shift in customer behaviour continues to be the MPV, which is entering a new and now likely decisive phase – with both small and compact segments losing a third of their volume over the half-year – (Citroën’s Grand Picasso dropping by 41%). As their declining appeal accelerates, it would be an optimistic carmaker indeed who would sanction a new MPV model programme under current market conditions.

Also under growing strain are saloon sales, with both mainstream brands and upmarket nameplates suffering significant falls – (Volkswagen’s Passat down 29.8% and Audi’s A4 dropping 26% of volume). Meanwhile Alfa Romeo’s Giulia suffered the crushing indignity of losing 45.4% of its previous year’s sales and even the mighty Mercedes S-Class was not immune, losing over a quarter of 2018 volumes.

For the first time now, niche models have entered the firing line, with both VW’s Arteon (-26.9%) and Audi’s A5 (-27.7%) shedding volume like a snakeskin and BMW’s 4-Series losing 29%. Coupes and convertibles even more so appear to be in retreat – a situation which is affecting upmarket brands and mainstream makers equally – Fiat’s 124 Spider losing a third of its volume and BMW’s 2-Series 34.7%. However, the biggest surprise here would seem to be the decline in Porsche 911 sales, the Nunelfer dropping 41.9% over the half year.

But it isn’t going all the way of the cross. Within the CUV segment, a reconfiguration of sorts is also taking place. The biggest victims, volume-wise are large non-premium crossovers – down as a whole by 30% – but their mid-size counterparts also saw sales fall, if somewhat more gently. However,  the upmarket sector have little to feel complacent about, medium and large crossover segments also suffering (small but significant) losses.

Whether any of this accounts for Skoda’s poor sales performance during the half-year – (Karoq down 31.4% and Kodiak -36.8%) is a question worth pondering, or indeed the sales reversal of Opel’s admittedly ageing Mokka (-26.3%). But there may be other factors at play there – WLTP compliance for one thing – another being a long-standing issue between Skoda and its VW parent over production capacity, to say nothing of the Czech brand’s positioning in the marketplace.

It’s a curiously scattergun picture, but of course one must issue the provisos that not only are these half-year figures (and much can still change in this most febrile of times), but also that sales data alone will only tell a decidedly one-dimensional story.

photo (c) carscoops

However, illustrating that clouds really do have a silver linings is the revelation of one big volume loser in particular. Likely to elicit warm satisfaction (or should that read schadenfreude?) amongst those who class themselves as motor enthusiasts is news of the 50.6% slide in sales of Crewe’s Bentayga SUV.

But as the immutable and time honoured laws of the game dictate, for every successful ascent up the board, you run the risk of falling back to square one. It’s all in the music of chance, that portentous roll of the dice.

Author: Eóin Doyle

Co-Founder. Editor. Content Provider.

5 thoughts on “Snakes and Ladders”

  1. Thank you for this report.

    It does paint a confusing picture, but WLTP and model changes will account for a lot of the fluctuations. No surprise that 911 sales were down, for example, given the anticipated (and seemingly highly regarded) 992 model is only now reaching customers. The Bentayga could be suffering because the diesel has been canned and the hybrid is said to be rubbish.

    And yes, crossovers and SUVs continue their rise, but this is partly a category issue. The Peugeot 3008/5008 cousins, for example, are essentially two-box MPVs with some ‘rugged’ affectations. The endless stream of taller superminis masquerading as SUVs (urban crossovers??) are just high rise hatchbacks. Ditto crap like the BMW X2.

    I am heart broken for the Giulia – I had hoped that the car would build momentum as it became a familiar sight on European streets, but this is obviously not the case. A very likeable and under-rated car, in my view.

    1. I couldn’t agree more about the Giulia: a tragedy that may see the end of Alfa Romeo.

  2. Has Skoda’s poor sales performance got anything to do with their badge loosing its colour and turning to “pure” or “poor” black and white?
    Well, just a silly comment since its already been a long time since they ‘ve done the twist- which I really don’t fancy, but really why is Skoda loosing ground? What’s happened? Is Seat to take the blame?

  3. Interesting to hear about Skoda in total Europe. The part of the continent I live in is totally unaffected of this decline. The January to July figures show Skoda on 4th place like in the previous year, but with a plus of 20 percent, being now very close behind BMW who is on third.
    And they have no less than three cars in the Swiss top ten: Octavia (1st), Karoq (8th) and Kodiaq (9).
    The biggest surprise for me was to find evidence that also the decline of MPVs might not be as pronounced as in other countries – we find the Seat Alhambra on 22nd place, outselling cars like Ford’s Focus and Fiesta or Renault’s Mégane – and also its twin, VW Sharan, by the way, by a factor of 2.2.

    1. I can’t tell whether Skoda’s recent sales figures are already influenced by this, but it’s a fact that Seat receives far more attention, support and money from Wolfsburg these days than Mlada Boleslav. Skoda’s been put on a very tight leash (financially and creatively), whereas Seat/Cupra receive enormous support and incentives. Maybe Luca de Meo’s reputation as a bit of a Wunderkind plays a role. Maybe not.

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